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Effect of War-Time Censorship on Historical Sources


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The effect of war-time censorship on historical sources regarding the North Strand Bombing in 1941. A talk by Kevin O'Connor at the North Strand Bombing and the Emergency in Ireland seminar held at Dublin City Library & Archive on Saturday, 29th May 2010.

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Effect of War-Time Censorship on Historical Sources

  1. 1. ‘The effect of war-time censorship on historical sources regarding the North Strand Bombing in 1941’ Kevin O’Connor
  2. 2. ‘German bombings of North Strand, Dublin, 31st May 1941: a community at war.’ North Strand Road numbers 17 to 22, June 4th 1941
  3. 3. Irish Times Irish Press
  4. 4. Sources Dowling, N., O’Reilly, A. (eds.) Mud Island: A History of Ballybough. Dublin, c. 2003. Ferriter, Diarmaid. The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000. London, 2005. Fisk, Robert. In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality, 1939-1945. London, 1983. Geraghty, T., Whitehead, T. The Dublin Fire Brigade. Dublin, 2004. Girvan, D., Roberts, G., Ireland in the Second World War. Dublin, 2000. Keogh, D. Twentieth-century Ireland: Revolution and State Building, Revised ed. London, 2005. Keogh, D. and O'Driscoll, M., Ireland in World War Two-Neutrality and Survival. Dublin, 2004. Lee, JJ, Ireland 1912-1985 Politics and Society. Cambridge, 1989. Lyons, FSL, Ireland Since the Famine. London, 1971 Websites (primary and secondary sources): University of Limerick’s Skynet Department of Defence Dublin City Council Dail Debates Irish Auxiliary Fire Service
  5. 5. Primary Sources Daughters of Charity, 150 Years of Service 1857-2007, Staff and Volunteers Celebrating 150 Years of service in St. Vincent's, North William Street, Dublin 1. Dublin, 2007 Dublin, Military Archives. Greene, Stephen, St Agatha’s Church, North William Street, 75 Years Old, Anniversary Commemorative Booklet. Dublin, c.1983 Interviews with survivors. Newspaper archives. North Inner-City Folklore Project, Rushe, Michael (ed.) Living in the City. Dublin (no date of publication c.1990). North Inner-City Folklore Project, Rushe, Michael (ed.) Reminiscenses North of the Liffey. Dublin, 1992.
  6. 6. Provincial newspapers 7th June 1941 Anglo-Celt, page 1: ‘Dublin’s Night of Horror’ Meath Chronicle headlines: ‘Confirmation at Kells’ and ‘Navan Confirmation Ceremony’ Leitrim Observer, page 3: Same coverage as Irish Independent. However, on page 2: ‘Donkey Sold, Then Stolen and Sold Again’, and the ‘North Leitrim GAA Fixtures’
  7. 7. Interviews with survivors How did the authorities and/or government respond to the tragedy? ‘OK, I suppose’ ‘I don’t know really’ ‘We didn’t hear anything’
  8. 8. Why so few sources of substance? (a) The North Strand was part of the poorest district in Ireland - the north inner-city of Dublin (b) Fear of German retribution if condemnation was too loud (c) People had enough problems in an Ireland that was poverty-stricken (d) Lack of information technology that we have today (e) Were the newspapers simply not overly interested?
  9. 9. War-time Censorship What is the significance of this Dáil statement: Dáil Éireann - Volume 83 - 05 June, 1941? An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach desires, by leave of the House, to make a brief statement. The Taoiseach Eamon de Valera 1584 The Taoiseach: Members of the Dáil desire to be directly associated with the expression of sympathy already tendered by the Government on behalf of the nation to the great number of [1584] our citizens who have been so cruelly bereaved by the recent bombing. Although a complete survey has not yet been possible, the latest report which I have received is that 27 persons were killed outright or subsequently died; 45 were wounded or received other serious bodily injury and are still in hospital; 25 houses were completely destroyed and 300 so damaged as to be unfit for habitation, leaving many hundreds of our people homeless. It has been for all our citizens an occasion of profound sorrow in which the members of this House have fully shared. (Members rose in their places.) The Dáil will also desire to be associated with the expression of sincere thanks which has gone out from the Government and from our whole community to the several voluntary organisations the devoted exertions of whose members helped to confine the extent of the disaster and have mitigated the sufferings of those affected by it. As I have already informed the The Dáil will not public, a protest has been made to the German Government. expect me, at the moment, to say more on this head.
  10. 10. Neutrality Pragmatic – we would have been overrun - Patrick Kavanagh said our defence forces would be hard put to defend a field of potatoes against an invasion of crows’ Political – a waiting game – alienate friends maybe but make no seriously threatening enemies – Fianna Fail rhetoric upheld Symbolic – the majority of Irish people favoured neutrality because it was another display of independence from the auld enemy Robert Fisk referred to emergency censorship as ‘neutrality’s backbone’
  11. 11. Frank Aiken - Minister for the Co- ordination of Defensive Measures - 1939-1945 Former Commander of the Irish Republican Army Elected to every Dáil Eireann from 1923 to 1973 Minister for Defence 1932-39 Minister for Co-ordination of Defensive Measures 1939-45
  12. 12. Was there much emergency censorship? Emergency Powers Act 1939 gave the government censorship carte blanche. Other neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden had less stringent censorship Books, pamphlets, leaflets, board games, posters, records, plays and films all fell foul of the emergency censorship
  13. 13. Censorship which most affected historical research Postal and Telegraph censorship Black list – those under suspicion White list – those whose post was exempt from censorship Watching list – those under temporary suspicion Press censorship The Directions to the Press , Emergency Powers (No. 5) Order, 1939 covered pages of items which were not allowed to be written about. Weather, finances (of the State), Civil Service, maps, pictures, military commentary of every description and so on. Even reporting on censorship was censored, as was reportage of the Directions above !
  14. 14. Effect of censorship on research Dermot Keogh (2005) comments: the ‘..strict wartime censorship regime in Ireland kept many members of the public in a state of near ignorance about what was going on in continental Europe.’ ‘..reports of football matches, to weather conditions and the state of the pitch were removed to deprive Berlin or London of such vital information.’ Dowling and O’Reilly (2002) ‘Censorship laws were being stringently enforced, so speculation as to the source of the bombs was not open to public debate, through the medium of the newspapers at any rate. The newspapers were therefore filled with minute details of the bombings, casualties, procedures in place to deal with the crisis and funeral arrangements, leaving behind a wealth of social history.’ The Irish Times (1941) on the day after the bombing carried pictures of the destruction caused, but on the same page also reported how thousands of people travelled to Baldoyle for the Bank Holiday Races.
  15. 15. Irish Times May 1945
  16. 16. The final death toll? Ferriter (2005) states that '..the bombing of Dublin's North Strand, in which 43 people were killed, was as close as Ireland got to the Blitz...' Dublin City Council Archives states that there were ‘..34 dead and 90 injured..’ Dowling and O’Reilly (2002) suggest a figure of '..39 dead and hundreds more injured.' A Department of Defence Civil Defence School report (1941) states ‘twenty-eight persons were killed, forty-five were seriously injured, while some hundreds suffered minor injuries, some of whom were hospital cases.’ Greene (1983) states that ‘..number of people dead rose from 18 to 37, but I am reliably informed that the exact number who perished was never finalized.’
  17. 17. Conclusion Civilian’s viewpoint - neutrality and censorship - less than 100 Irish civilians died in the 26 counties as a direct result of World War II - relationship with Britain soon recovered to being even better than it was before the war Historian’s viewpoint - Successful censorship, by definition, means a restriction of a historian’s life-blood – sources. Nevertheless, many stories were still uncovered and many heroes were found amongst the ARP, LSF, LDF, Fire Brigade, Daughters of Charity, Irish Red Cross, St. John Ambulance and many others. If ever there